I’ve always hated making reservations. Early in my career as a critic, I routinely forgot the fake name I had given on the phone and stood by the hostess like an idiot, insisting that I had reserved a table but didn’t know for whom. Alternatively, I felt ashamed every time I gave a pseudonym only to have the person at the other end of the line recognize my voice (my French accent is as thick as glue). But really, I don’t mind waiting for a table. It’s part of the experience, and one can learn a lot about a place by just showing up: Are they friendly or snobby? How organized are they? Are wait times accurate? And if an hour stretches into two, how does the staff respond? Also, “Do you have a reservation?” shouldn’t be the first thing customers hear. Lead with a warm welcome, like a proper host, and we’ll go from there.
Out-of-towners assume that Atlanta is a hotbed for soul food. And when I moved here in the mid-1970s, it was. Paschal’s Motor Hotel, Deacon Burton’s, Thelma’s, and Annie Keith’s—these classic restaurants showcased what I love most about soul food: the enveloping scent, the slow cooking of humble ingredients, and the deft frying of anything from chicken livers to pork chops, whiting, and chicken. Sadly, most of these establishments have closed. The Beautiful Restaurant, owned by the Perfect Church on McDaniel Street, had five locations at one point. The one remaining on Cascade Road isn’t really worth a visit. The same goes for Paschal’s, which today doesn’t measure up to my memories. Thankfully, Weaver D’s in Athens and Busy Bee Cafe have remained true to themselves. But when I really want to feast on smothered chicken, pork neck bones, turkey wings, or, best of all, oxtail buried in gravy, I head to K&K Soul Food in Bankhead and, to a lesser extent, Q-Time in West End (the latter doesn’t have neck bones). Both are no-frills cafeterias where the food is casual, cheap, and utterly satisfying. My hope is that these restaurants endure and that soon they will get the attention—and dining dollars—of today’s dining hipsters.
- Eric Ottensmeyer, formerly executive chef at Leon’s Full Service, is now cooking tons of fun, fresh comfort food at Paper Mill Grill in East Cobb.
- If you want to see the prettiest espresso machine in Atlanta (and eat the best steamed buns), check out Karl Injex’s Huge Cafe, where his friend Mihoko Obunai fixes real-deal Japanese snacks.
- If anything, the much-anticipated opening of Ponce City Market has made me more appreciative of Krog Street Market, which feels far more intimate and sincere.
This article originally appeared in our February 2016 issue.